by the Sun-News Editorial Board, Las Cruces Sun-News
Sept. 5, 2018
Labor Day 2018 will be no different than Labor Day 2009 for minimum wage workers. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since it was last increased in July, 2009.
The situation in New Mexico is only slightly better. We raised our minimum wage to $7.50, but it has also been unchanged for nearly a decade.
“Food, utilities, rent, and basics like diapers, have all gotten more expensive in the last nine years, but our minimum wage has stagnated. That $7.50 does not buy what it bought in 2009,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a political advocacy group focused on childhood issues.
For much of the American workforce, there is much to celebrate this Labor Day. The federal unemployment rate of 3.9 percent is just a fraction of the high of 10.2 percent that we saw in October, 2009. The economy continues growing and adding new jobs each month.
But wage growth has not kept pace with job growth. July numbers showed hourly wages have only grown by 2.7 percent in the past year. It was, according to the Washington Post, the 94th straight month that jobs have gone up, and the 110th straight month that wages grew by less than 3 percent. In fact, wage growth has actually declined in the past two years from 2.8 percent to 2.7.
The result has been a massive expansion in income equality. The top 1 percent of families in America earned, on average, 26.3 times as much as the other 99 percent in 2015, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. Average pay for a CEO was about 20 times that of a typical worker in 1965. In 2016, CEO pay was 271 times greater than the average worker.
New Mexico has less of a gap than most states, but that is only because our top 1 percent earns far less on average ($615,082) than those in other states. Average pay for the other 99 percent ($39,675) ranked toward the bottom.
A new study by Voices for Children found that the state minimum wage will only purchase $6.30 of the $7.50 buying power it had nine years ago. To keep pace with inflation, the new rate would need to be $8.95 an hour.
“Given our rate of child poverty, which is the highest in the nation, it’s unconscionable that we haven’t raised the minimum wage to help New Mexico’s hard-working families and our economy,” Jimenez argues.
Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe all have minimum wages above the state level, as do Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. But for all of the state’s other residents, the wage has been stagnant for nearly a decade.
Voices for Children is calling for incremental increases in the minimum wage until it reaches $12 an hour by 2020. We’re not sure that’s the right number, but we do think the issue needs to be addressed. Nine years is too long to go without an increase.
Increasing wages throughout the state would bring workers in areas around Las Cruces closer to what those in the city are making. Ideally, future changes should also include indexing, so the wage climbs slowly to keep pace with inflation and is not subject to political fights.
Copyright 2018, Las Cruces Sun-News (https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/opinion/editorial/2018/09/05/jobs-up-wages-flat-labor-day/1208350002/)